Dire need for long-term psychological counseling- Fr.Karunaratnam

[TamilNet, Thursday, 20 January 2005, 03:18 GMT]
Rev.Fr.M.X. Karunaratnam, head of the NorthEast Secretariat on Human Rights (NESOHR), was recently appointed as chairman to lead an effort to provide psychological support for those in the NorthEast affected by the tsunami. Father Karunaratnam spoke to TamilNet in detail of the task at hand and about the group they have assembled to carryout this task that requires social sensitivity, and a coordinated plan for long-term care and follow-up.

Excerpts from the interview follow:

Fr KarunaratnamTamilNet: Can you describe to us the scale of the psychological impact of tsunami in the NorthEast?
Fr. Karunaratnam: Tamil people in the NorthEast have already suffered through years of war and the tsunami disaster has seriously affected a large of people psychologically. 75.5% of our population is women and children. This group is considered the most vulnerable in our society. Our urgent need is to ensure that this group and others who are affected are well cared for and are provided with the best counseling and treatment necessary to deal with the losses and to enable them to lead a productive life in the future

TamilNet: Describe to us the personnel helping you in your mission and your short term and long term plans?
Fr. Karunaratnam: We first assembled trained staff and personnel who have been involved in counseling locally. Rev. Fr.S.Reginald and his staff from Annai Illam, Sister E.Christobel, Sister Lourdes, staff from Mother Mary Rita’s Uthayatharakai, counselling staff from Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO) and others made up a total of 73 staff counselors. They will conduct counseling on the field, from Amparai to Vadamaradchy East, to Jaffna.

We also have a group of consultants, one per 500 families and a group of volunteers to assist them will form another support group for the main counselors.

Fr KarunaratnamTamilNet: What actions have you taken so that the counseling procedures are consistent and effective?
Fr. Karunaratnam: We held a two day seminar for counselors conducted by Dr. Shanthy Sooriyakumaran, a psychiatrist from UK and Dr Ratna Pushparajah also from UK. We have reviewed our progress so far and have shared experiences in the field in handling children suffering from trauma. We plan to have weekly debriefing session for the counselors in Mullaitivu and in Vadamaradchy East, two areas severely affected by the disaster. We have also setup counseling units in several welfare centers and have scheduled visits to people who need help but are staying with relatives and friends.

Fr KarunaratnamTamilNet: What are the challenges facing you as you move forward with your plans?
Fr. Karunaratnam: We still need additional trained personnel to serve in the East. Prof. Somasunderam of Jaffna University has volunteered to train additional staff.

We are optimistic that we will be able to provide psychological help, comfort and relief to majority of our people who need help. We would be taking extra care of and be sensitive to the needs of our children who have been psychologically scarred. During training sessions of counselors we have stressed the need to be sensitive and to take extra effort to protect the privacy of patients. Our mission is to enable our society to emerge unscathed from the scars of this disaster and we will achieve that.

We are also continuously looking to provide additional transportation, board and lodging facilities for our counseling staff so that they can carry out their tasks effectively without being burdened by basic personal needs.

Our mission is to ensure that all our people emerge unscathed from the scars of tsunami disaster. It is a difficult and challenging mission but with the support of our staff, help from NGOs operating locally and with the unprecedented help from our expatriate medical experts we are confident of providing the needed service to our people.

 

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